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ART206 Impressionism

Impressionism, 1874 – 80'S

Impressionism is a derivative of Realism, but was primarily concerned with how the artist saw an object, rather than what is seen.

The optical sensations of light and color, and the effect of light on local subject became the subject matter, rather than the object itself.

 The impressionists rejected iconographic interpretation and literary metaphors. `En plein air` (open air) paintings became the method to capture light and color at a certain moment.

Their insistence on painting outdoors was a radical departure from traditional academic painting, which demanded that study sketches from real life be followed by the painting done in a studio.

 Another departure from tradition was the impressionist use of broken color in "alla prima".  In which they painted directly on primed white canvas with pure colors straight from the tube.  Where the eye was intended to mix them.  Emphasis is on visual sensation.

  • Impressionism is rejected from the academy. It is slow to catch on in Europe, but the Americans will embrace it early on.
  • Impressionism is the last attempt by artist to describe a concrete reality. 
  • The impressionist embraces new scientific discoveries in optical theories.
  • Impressionism, Humanistically gives equal attention to space and shape, challenging the Renaissance, picture window.
Cultural Influence:

Paris is shelled and France loses war with Prussia.  Unemployment with failure of industry to create jobs.

Growing social/political inequities, with right and left bank (coffee houses) and publication of intellectual manifestos. Which were in reaction to political absolutism, and the industrial ills. Massive unemployment and pollution of the environment.

John Dalton is discovery of the electron leads in theory to conformation of nature as vibratory. Darwin's Ascent of Man challenges church dogma, giving more responsibility to self.

Existentialism, J Paul Sartre.  Attention to present.

Impressionism begins modern art, a posture of individual intent, challenging traditional patronage and academic standards.

Impressionism turns apolitical and reflects a concern with perception, a rational pragmatic study of light as a vibratory phenomenon.  A natural optical process of eye and mind rather than medieval ideas of light as divine or intellectual, both of which are a privileged posture. 

Humanistically  impressionism celebrates individual observation, and one's own  impression of the direct sensation of light.

Since Impressionism is heightened realism, a play to memory, content is easy on the brain.

In 1880's Impressionism gains an international attention, but by the 1890's begins to fall apart as an organization, no longer a pioneer movement.  Seen as culmination of Rena's search for a rational representation of nature.

Past Influences to Impressionism
From Baroque natural light to Romantic real time and place.
Realism  1850-1870 Reaction against:

  • artificiality of Romantics escapism
  • academy dictates and political absolutism.


Courbet manifesto of realism. Just the observable facts, without "flight of fancy" or imagination.
1863:          Manet's "Luncheon on the Grass"  is rejected and he creates the Salon of Refusals.
1865:          Olympia is accepted, but reaction of academy finishes the downfall of Manet's reputation.
1867:          Manet denied acceptance to World's Fair exhibition.

Impressionism 1874 - 1880's
Association of artists following tenets of Impressionism. Which is aesthetically, the Impression of the moment, a direct response to sensation of light in optical terms through broken color.

1880's Impressionism becomes an international movement, which then becomes point of departure with Van Gogh and Gauguin.

Impressionism  1874-80's
Impressionism will be last front edge attempt to describe reality in realistic terms.  Artistic intent becomes more scientific than political.

With Tubed colors, the Impressionists go outdoors with new color theories.

Leads to Impressionism's interests in light as optical phenomenon.  To record color and light, with attitude of "scientific rationalism".

Following Cheval's color theory, Impressionists will lead an intellectual, rational analysis of nature as vibratory light, rather than concrete mass. Its last step from Rena analytical, objective study of a concrete nature.

The camera will continue the documentation of the objective nature of things, which will free artist and creativity for more conceptual concerns, or Post Impressionism.

In 1874, after several years of refusing to exhibit at the academy, the Impressionists hold first show apart from the academy, finishing separation from the state begun with Courbet's Solan of Refusal. 
Held in a photography studio a painting by, Monet, "Impression of the Rising Son", inspires criticism and cartoon of pregnant women restrained by police, " as a danger to the unborn"

Impressionist Humanist contributions

Discuss the equation Intent, Emotion, Belief.
Imagination, Gesture,. Art/life.

Impressionist Artists frees intent from traditional expectations. With attention to the present, observer mixes own colors, and acknowledges vibratory light.  Equal attention is given to space and shape. Challenges traditional Renaissance perspective of space and shape.

Impressionism deals with people in a natural easy relationship to nature.  Denies any moral, social or political concerns. Becomes a popular aesthetic. Still is because it is non-confrontational and doesn't demand gestating heavy conceptual concerns. 

It is this that leads to its demise as an important movement on the cutting edge of modern art.

Impressionism reflects no history, traditional mythology, or religion, it left the public wondering what it meant.
At the worst, Impressionistic subject matter reflects a privileged status, wealthy people at play.
Americans are first to buy Impressionism seriously.

Offends European public, because; they see it as a deliberate malformation of visual truth/perception. Yet, it is actually a heightened realism of a vibratory nature. Confirming a mutable rather than concrete nature of things

Post Impressionism will re-establish art as a process to evoke change through significant content necessary in world of collapsing social and political consciousness, World War 1 and 2.

Your responsibility is to be able to:

  1. Recognize the aesthetic characteristics of Impressionism and Literal Abstraction and
  2. Be aware of the humanistic contributions of each movement to the Post Modern